Writings and observations

Washington and Idaho legislative sessions crank in tomorrow, both probably a good deal different – in spite of having the same personnel generally in place – from a year ago. And both having something else in common: A special awareness of how their actions in this session may shape ballot issues in the fall, or earlier.

That’s most notably true in Washington. For the last couple of years, budget action has mostly meant cuts in pay, services and so forth. Revenues at this point are still looking shakey, but a good many Democrats, including Governor Chris Gregoire, are saying that the cuts have to end. What may emerge, in effect, is two budget prospects, one with massive cuts, and the other balanced to some extent with revenue increases (such as Gregoire’s proposed half-cent sales tax increase), which would then go to the voters. It could almost be a backflip on Tim Eyman legislating.

That may be only the first of a string of legislative matters heading to voters, stretching out into social territory (same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization).

In Idaho, there’s a precedent already hanging over legislators’ heads – a referendum on last session’s public schools “Luna laws” (as they’re now being dubbed). But there could be much more. Democrats are talking about a state ethics commission; at this point, it’d be good politics to run that out as an initiative if legislators won’t pass it. The debate over health insurance exchanges promises to be about as lively. If cuts continue, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine ways those too could be placed on ballots. And the kickoff for that could be obvious: For the second year, the budget committee (to its great credit) will be holding public hearings on the budget. (That never had been done in Idaho before last year.) Last year’s hearings drew large crowds; so might this year’s.

Welcome to the statehouses, guys. Should be interesting.

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Not much of a shock here, but the Oregon Public Broadcasting article reviewing contributions from Washington, Idaho and Oregon to the presidential candidates is worth note:

“Third quarter numbers for last year showed Oregon, Washington, and Idaho donors giving to all the major candidates. Mitt Romney led the Republican pack for contributions from donors in all three states,” the story said. Democrat Barack Obama led all Republicans by far in Washington and Oregon.

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One line in the newly-released Washington Supreme Court case McCleary v. Washington gives pause to the immediate dismissal of its importance. We’ve been here before: Courts saying (in the Northwest, in Washington and elsewhere) that not enough is being spent on schools to meet constitutional mandates, and the legislature really ought to do it.

But without any hammer ever following up, and the legislature in whichever state is at issue shrugging its collective shoulder.

In McCleary, that line of critique at the state goes like this: “The State has failed to meet its duty under article IX, section 1 by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program.” We’ve seen similar strong verbiage before.

And it’s followed by acknowledgement (as earlier such decisions often have been, too) that the legislature has been fiddling around with education, trying to do new things. Weight has to be given to the legislature’s policy-setting role, and so on. In this decision: “We defer to the legislature’s chosen means of discharging its article IX, section 1 duty …”

The line that gives pause is this, following that last: “but the judiciary will retain jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State’s plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018. We direct the parties to provide further briefing to this court addressing the preferred method for retaining jurisdiction.”

In other words, the case isn’t over.

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The final hangup in Washington reapportionment had to do with a single legislative district in eastern Washington – a vast area which has been uniformly Republican for quite some time, so an unlikely place for a hangup.

But the new District 15 is the first in the area to reflect the reality of the very large Latino population in south-central Washington. It runs from part of Yakima south to the Klickitat County line, taking in lots of farm country and mid-sized communities. Historically, this area has elected Republicans solidly. The Latino population in the area, very substantial for some time, has had a light voting footprint.

Now, with the prospect that population can directly make its own choice, that could be changing. The Yakima Herald-Republic notes that “OneAmerica, a Seattle-based immigrant rights group that has been working in the Yakima and Tri-Cities areas, will now step up its efforts with a voter registration campaign early this year targeted to the Latino population.”

And there was this: “Whitman College political science professor Paul Apostolidis, who has spent years studying voting in the Yakima area and the role of majority-minority districts in improving civic engagement among minorities, applauded the new district. … Latinos, Apostolidis said, have been drastically underrepresented in local and state elections. A greater opportunity for minority candidates to win elections will inspire more people to participate, he said.”

Such as change the mix of candidates for legislative and other office. The 15th will be a district to watch.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Before venturing into this subject let me make three things clear:

1) Personally I am opposed to all forms of gambling, whether tribal, state endorsed or publicly traded business firms. It is horrible social policy and illogical tax policy to generate revenues by taking money from folks who almost always cannot afford to lose what they fritter away. States should not be running lotteries nor sanctioning betting whether on horses, dogs or sporting events.

2) The “giving back” spirit of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, as well as the Nez Perce and the Kalispell’s, is commendable. That there are unanswered questions is not meant to impugn motives or demean their civic mindedness or their significant job-generation in north Idaho’s economy.

3) The Gallatin Group, a regional public affairs firm I co-founded in 1989 (two of its five offices are in Spokane and Boise) performed limited work for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe three times in the last 10 years. I have neither financial interest in nor any ties to Gallatin since retiring several years ago. While a senior partner I participated in the firm hiring Heather Keen, who just recently became the Coeur d’Alene Tribal communications director.

Late last month readers of The Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d’Alene Press may have seen full page ads taken out by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe claiming they had kept the promise made to voters in 1992 to give back 5 percent of the annual gaming net revenues to the support of education.

Yes and No. Yes, they have contributed $17 million by their account but it is misleading to say it all falls under the rubric of education. It stretches credulity to see where funds donated to the Kroc Center or to Mark Few’s Coaches vs. Cancer annual fund drive complies with initiative language that pledged the 5 percent would go to support education in surrounding school districts. Money listed for Gonzaga, for example, includes the annual payment for the tribe’s private box at McCarthy Arena.

One has to know the background. Scrutiny of the tribal pledge by both the Coeur d’Alene Press and the St. Maries Gazette-Record earlier in 2011 led to stories that raised legitimate doubts as to whether the tribe had kept to its pledge. Other issues came to the forefront as these papers continued to investigate the matter.

Most of these questions remain unanswered and still merit answering. Among them are:

1. Is the state of Idaho as represented by the Lottery Commission’s executive director really exercising a monitoring role as envisioned by the initiative? Or, as appears to the case just taking the tribe’s word it is in compliance?

2. Why, after first claiming it had no obligation to open its books, did the Coeur d’Alene Tribe provide the Spokesman exclusive access to their contribution records in an effort to convince the public they had kept their pledge? And why did the Spokesman take as gospel a list of all charitable contributions being a legitimate fulfillment of the pledge to donate to educational programs and districts in the surrounding area?

3. The Spokesman has long championed full disclosure of governmental records and strongly supported the public’s right to know as trumping all other interests. Why in this instance do they appear to be supporting a tribal claim to be able to withhold information regarding gaming proceeds?

4. Why should the public or the media take the tribe’s word on the 5 percent return absent a verification by an outside independent auditing firm of just what each year’s annual net revenues are? Trust but verify President Reagan once said. Where’s the outside, independent verification?

5. Does a tribe’s gaming compact with a Governor trump state law whether passed by a Legislature or by the voters through an initiative process? This question is relevant because the Sho-Bans in southern Idaho make no pretense of giving back 5 percent as mandated by the voter initiative. They claim their compact with the state, which makes no mention of a 5 percent return, takes precedence. Does it? Should it?

Questions and issues like these will persist as long as the media and others blindly buy into the partially false claim Tribes always make regarding their alleged “sovereign nation” status. The correct term as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court is “quasi-sovereign.” Historical fact and judicial precedence have made clear that Tribe treaties are still subject to Congressional plenary authority, which means Congress could if it wanted extinguish every single treaty.

Likewise, the Supreme Court made clear in a 6-2 ruling in 1978 in the case of Oliphant v.Suquamish Indian Tribe that tribes have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. The bottom line is we are all, non-Native Americans as well as Native Americans, citizens of the United States first, and citizens of a state second, and the laws of the United States and the laws of a state should apply equally to all across the board.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andurs. He lives at Medimont.

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This is being posted hours before the Republican Iowa caucuses are held, so it’s not a post-comparison. So for whatever it’s worth, here are some numbers to bear in mind tonight.

They come from the Washington state Republican Party’s straw poll of members, to gauge support for the candidates. Here are the numbers:

 Mitt Romney – 27.49%
 Newt Gingrich – 25.77%
 Ron Paul – 18.43%
 Rick Santorum – 11.31%
 Michele Bachmann – 8.76%
 Rick Perry – 5.47%
 Jon Huntsman 2.77%

Looks a little close on the top end. Now we’ll see what Iowa says.

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We don’t get to see the final maps right away – tomorrow morning is evidently when they will be posted – but the Washington Redistricting Commission did seem to get its work done, about two hours from the final deadline.

A number of people (commissioners included) argued that the timeline could be shorted. A legislator writing in comments, Ross Hunter, said “I would have loved to implement [Tom] Huff’s idea right now and cut their budget. There is no reason it takes this long.”

There was one advantage to the drawn-out process. Commissioner Dean Foster pointed it out: With more hearings, debates, delay, it all got more exposure to the public and generated more public reaction.

And the final results carried the signatures of all commission members.

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